STEELERS 34, FALCONS 16
Steelers' record: 2-1
One year ago: 2-1
Preseason series record: Steelers lead, 3-0
As the third preseason game, this was the one treated most like a regular season game by the Steelers. The coaching staff put in a game plan, and the starters played the whole first half. In addition to the preparation, the Falcons presented a stiff challenge as an opponent coming off a 13-3 season. Coach Mike Tomlin said that because so much more was put into this game from a preparation standpoint, much more would be expected.
There was some ebb and flow to the game through the first quarter-and-a-half, and the Falcons closed to 17-13 after Matt Bryant's 30-yard field goal with 2:53 remaining in the first half. But on the ensuing possession, the Steelers drove 81 yards in six plays, with the touchdown coming on a 44-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, to take a 24-13 lead and assume control of the game.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
The Falcons ran 52 offensive plays in the first half, an incredibly high number on its own, and 44 of those 52 were called pass plays. Matt Ryan attempted 42 passes, and on two other pass plays he pulled the ball down and scrambled.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* The Falcons lost the toss, and the Steelers elected to receive. On the first kickoff return of the preseason – all the other kickoffs had resulted in touchbacks – Antonio Brown brought it back 51 yards, and he also drew a 15-yard horse-collar tackle penalty to put the ball on the Atlanta 35-yard line. Two passes to David Johnson later, the ball was on the 1-yard line. Rashard Mendenhall went over right guard untouched for the touchdown.
- One play after being confused and leaving Roddy White all alone for a 22-yard completion to the 5-yard line, Keenan Lewis broke up a pass for White in the end zone. Lewis injured his knee on the play and did not return to the game. In his brief stint on defense, Lewis had two passes defensed.
- Mike Tomlin always talks about injuries creating opportunities for other players, and that's what happened when Keenan Lewis left the game. Crezdon Butler was the guy who went onto the field after Lewis left, and early in the fourth quarter he took advantage of the opportunity. Butler, in good position on the out-route run by WR Kerry Meier, broke on the ball, made the interception and showed good speed on a 95-yard return for a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 31-16 lead.
- Late in the game, Miguel Chavis, who was moved from defensive end to tight end just before the team broke camp, recovered a fumble by John Clay to preserve possession for the Steelers. But he tore a pectoral muscle on the play and had to leave the game.
- In addition to playing well once again, Roethlisberger continues to say the kinds of things that leaders are supposed to say. When asked to assess the offense's performance during a first half in which it scored 24 points, Roethlisberger said, "It's still another performance, in my opinion, where I'm happy that we scored but I still am a little disappointed that we haven't done as well as I think we should have. We had a couple breakdowns, some different things here and there that have stalled us as an offense. I feel like we're doing some good things, but we've still got some work to do. That's a good thing. I'd rather do that than be 100 percent right."
- Baraka Atkins helped the game end sooner rather than later when he recovered a fumble by Falcons RB Philip Sylvester with 1:51 remaining. The fumble was forced by Mortty Ivy. The Steelers then took a knee three times to end the game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* Daniel Sepulveda's first punt traveled 53 yards, but it was nullified by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Keenan Lewis for running downfield out of bounds. After the 15-yard penalty, Sepulveda got off a 49-yard punt that was fair caught.
- Red zone efficiency has been an issue for the Steelers in the recent past, and it continued on Saturday night. Lawrence Timmons' interception return set up the offense with a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Three plays later, the Steelers settled for a 19-yard field goal. The Steelers were 1-for-3 in the red zone for the game.
- Eric Weems found a seam on a 48-yard punt by Sepulveda, and he returned in 48 yards. Stevenson Sylvester saved a touchdown with his tackle.
- The game began with the Steelers having more quarterbacks on their roster than they possibly could keep, and all four of them have starting experience in the NFL. But that changed, and rather dramatically, on the Steelers' third offensive play of the second half. Byron Leftwich scrambled out of the pocket and tried to run for the first down. Leftwich fell on his left arm, and left the game immediately in obvious pain. The injury was diagnosed as a broken arm.
Ion addition to Leftwich and Chavis, Tomlin said the rest of the injuries "are minimal, in-game kind of injuries. Maurkice Pouncey re-aggravated his ankle. It shouldn't be a major deal. I think (Keenan Lewis) is going to be fine. They are running tests (on his left knee)."